- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

LAKEWOOD, Colo. Ripples from the September 11 attacks have reached an unlikely destination: a city council race in this western Denver suburb, where charges of discrimination against a Muslim candidate could decide the election.
Tom Booher, a candidate for the council seat from Lakewood's Ward 4, is accused of trying to link his opponent, Zenat Shariff Belkin, to terrorism by highlighting her Muslim ancestry. In a campaign flyer mailed to 2,000 voters last week, he left out her married name, Belkin, four times and referred to her instead as Zenat Shariff.
The issue for voters in Colorado's fourth-largest city now becomes whether Mr. Booher was trying to tar Mrs. Belkin through guilt by association or whether Mrs. Belkin's supporters are guilty of playing a new kind of race card.
When Mrs. Belkin first read the Booher campaign flyer, she said she first thought the omission was a typo. When she saw it repeated four times, she was "surprised and hurt."
"I've never opened the race or ethnicity door," said the 47-year-old college instructor and business consultant. "I'm sorry he did it."
The Denver Post blasted Mr. Booher for what it described as "a cynical ad hominem attack on the Muslim name of a rival." Earlier, the Post endorsed Mrs. Belkin for office in Tuesday's mail-in election.
The accusations have led to a surge of support for Mrs. Belkin. A native of Tanzania who came to the United States at age 16, she said she has been "overwhelmed by the positive response."
It's been a different story at the Booher campaign. A 33-year-old business owner, Mr. Booher denies any attempt to link his opponent to terrorism and insists the charges are "hugely inaccurate." Even so, the local Lakewood Sentinel newspaper has withdrawn its endorsement of his candidacy, and he has received a slew of unpleasant phone calls on the subject.
"We've gotten calls on both sides," said Mr. Booher. "We've had callers accuse us of certain things. Then we've gotten calls saying, 'Way to go,' which we don't want, either."
The pamphlet at the center of the controversy is aimed primarily at contrasting the two candidates' positions on taxes. Twice the flyer refers to Mrs. Belkin as "Zenat Shariff Belkin." The pamphlet also reprints the Lakewood Sentinel's endorsement of Mr. Booher, which calls Mrs. Belkin by her full name.
The controversial part is an insert that was included in a mailing to about 2,000 National Right to Work Committee supporters. That flyer, which plays up Mrs. Belkin's union ties, first calls her "Zenat Shariff Belkin," but drops "Belkin" on the next four references.
Mr. Booher said the rationale for dropping Belkin on those references was to avoid increasing her name recognition.
"We were told it was Politics 101, that if you use the name of your opponent more than one time, you should drop the last name on second reference," said Mr. Booher. "Until this happened, we didn't even know she was Muslim. We didn't mean for it to be disrespectful, and I don't think it really was."
He noted that he used Mrs. Belkin's full name elsewhere in the flyer and has done so on other campaign materials. "We only dropped her last name in this one section," said Mr. Booher. "You'd think that we'd have done it throughout the flyer if that's what we wanted to accomplish."
His campaign manager, Ray Hart, who is black, said he would never have approved any discriminatory campaign materials. "There was no intent to smear her. No one in this campaign has raised any issue of race," he said. "Why would Tom hire a black man as his campaign manager if he were racist?"
Even so, his supporters acknowledge that the charges have hurt his chances. The Belkin campaign has since papered the district with reprints of the Post and Sentinel editorials denouncing Mr. Booher.
"One neighbor of mine told me, 'If this article is true, then I'm going to campaign for Zenat Belkin,'"said Mr. Hart.
Mike Feeley, chairman of the Belkin campaign and a longtime Democratic pol, said the Booher campaign may be guilty primarily of stupidity.
"They're idiots," said Mr. Feeley, the former Colorado Senate Minority Leader. "This is the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. They're so politically tone-deaf that they do something dumb, and they can't figure out how to undo it. This district is heavily Republican, but we're going keep electing Democrats because of guys like these."


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